On Tuesday, the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), the Uganda Medical Workers Union (UMWU) and Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union filed a suit in the High Court in Kampala challenging government's decision to enter into negotiations with the Uganda Medical Association (UMA).
The negotiations aims to end the strike that UMA began on November 6 to protest government's failure to address their demands for improvements in their pay and working conditions.
The unions are also seeking, among other things, a court declaration that they are the only entities that are mandated to negotiate on behalf of the health workers and an order restraining the Attorney General and other arms of government from negotiating with the striking doctors.
While we have no qualms about the unions' decision to seek redress for any wrongdoing on the part of UMA, we do have reservations about the timing of the suit and their real intentions. For a start, UMA's demands are not new.
They have been captured in three Health Sector Barometers, the latest having been held on October 31 at State House Entebbe where UMA warned of industrial action unless government moved to, among other things, end the harassment of medical workers by the State House Health Monitoring Unit and increase their salaries.
Back then, the unions never questioned UMA's "right to sidestep the established bodies" and table demands. Why are they doing so now?
Besides, the unions have for quite some time now been involved in negotiations with government over the medical worker's pay. Those negotiations cannot be said to have been successful. Under the circumstances, what would be wrong for doctors to take charge of their own negotiations? In whose interest are the unions working?
The biggest concern here though is where the unions are going with this. The immediate effect of the suit, if any, will be to derail the negotiations between government and the striking doctors.
Quantification of the sum total of the impact of the strike on the health sector may not be possible at this point in time, but suffice it to say the public, which relies on those public health institutions for its healthcare needs, is aching.
That public, whose welfare the President swore to promote, is not interested in who government negotiates with.
Its interest is in seeing an end to the strike and a return of the doctors to hospital wards. That is why government should ignore the unions and continue negotiations with UMA.